For the LPGs (Lotus Park Gangsters)

Trust the LPG’s (Lotus Park Gangsters) to get upset about me excluding them from my ‘Spingo blog.  Well, I hope this makes up for it. For you, Desan, thanks for setting me straight and reminding me to write about Lotus Park as well.

When I think about Lotus Park, I immediately want to tell the story about how a dead body was found in our school’s swimming pool. There’s so many juicy bits in that one sentence alone, I’m not sure what’s more shocking – that my school had a swimming pool or that there was a dead body in it. That I can’t remember whether the story about the dead body is true or not does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm about the story either. But I guess that would be far from starting the story at the beginning, so perhaps some context would go a long way here.

While it wasn’t often that the pool contained a dead body, just the fact that my primary school, Kamalinee Primary, had a swimming pool was something to behold. For a substantial part of my primary school years, the apartheid was well and truly underway, and although me schooling in an Indian area would mean that we had access to basics like furniture and toilets, it was something else that we had both an impressive library and a swimming pool. Now a charou that can, and likes to read is not uncommon, but a charou that swims, well let’s just say that’s an exception. Sure, we’d lug a pot of breyani to the beach and walk on the sand wearing our jeans, a few daring ones might brave the shallows but by and large, swimmers we were not. Please read that last bit with an undertone of smugness, my family is a family of very proud swimmers. The idea of pool in an Indian school was both mesmerising and impossibly posh, I felt posh going to Kamalinee because of that pool alone. Of course, what wasn’t that posh was that many of the students who came to my school faced the dehumanising effects of poverty daily and as much as I loved that pool, I always thought it was a bit unnecessary in the great scheme of things. Something that the teachers organised at the school that I loved though, was a feeding scheme of sorts where potato sandwiches would be made and wrapped in paper and placed outside the library for anyone to collect so they could have something for lunch. Now, being a kid, there was nothing worse than a potato sandwich for lunch and my mother somehow thought that I had the appetite of a rugby player so my lunch pack consisted of four slices of bread, chips, a chocolate and a juice box (yes for a six year old). Needless to say there was absolutely no reason for me to take one of those wrapped potato sandwiches when they presented themselves. And of course, that’s exactly why I did. Flip, that sandwich was probably the best potato sandwich I’ve ever eaten, nothing like an illicit meal to make you appreciate the simple things in life. It probably was not worth the lashing I got from my mother afterwards and the years of guilt I’ve carried with me but, no one said I was a smart child (although it does seem apparent that I was a hungry one).

I suppose there were loads of things we weren’t good at at Kamalinee Primary, but it amused me to no end that our school did not churn out an abundance strong swimmers. Wait, scratch that, some of the “swimmers” we churned out where the kind that needed to be rescued whenever they ventured into the deep end of the pool. Our pool was only a meter deep so that meant one could easily get away with being a “swimmer” by walking through the water and throwing your arms about. You weren’t fast but you sure didn’t drown. I wonder if that’s why the pool was prime ground for the storage of a dead body. It’s quite clever really, it sort of reminds me of all the Indian aunties who never turn on their ovens, choosing instead to use it as cupboard space. I mean whoever chucked that body in the pool probably thought “this is a good use for this space” and did it to save us the embarrassment of having to be rescued during inter-school swimming galas. It is also possible that the dead body in the pool story was made up one winter when the pool turned a decidedly unappealing shade of pond scum green, and if it is, well that just goes to show that we could use a pool to spark our imaginations if not better our swimming abilities. Kudos to the Kamalinee Primary students on that one, perhaps we were better than we realised at certain things.

It’s hard for me to think of Lotus Park and not think of my school, a school that I’m convinced was one of the best in that area. I loved that school. Sure it was the place where my sister started to disown me (imagine being violently shook by the shoulders and a threatening voice saying “Don’t call me Akka”) but at least I would be able to convince my mother to buy Asterix comics for the school library, something I’m convinced is one of the biggest accomplishments in my life. I am biased to say that we had incredible teachers (my mother was one of them, and yes, I’m still working through it with my therapist) and that they always seemed to want the best for us, they pushed us, they shouted at us but most importantly, they created a foundation like no other. You’ll also understand that I say, with complete love in my heart, that I think they were a bunch of sadists. Hear me out, here. I mean I just took a look at my primary school concert pictures and remembered the sheer horror of those strangely choreographed dances, the costumes that didn’t fit the way they were supposed to, and worse still, the ones that fell apart in public. Why was it that most of our pageant/concert clothes were put together by nothing more than safety pins and hope? Remember the duck dance of ’90? Of course, we were cute in our yellow crepe paper outfits and we had a little hip shaking dance to go with it, but let’s just take a step back and examine the mechanics of the thing. Crepe paper on a good day is only slightly more substantial than a politician’s promise in election year, but couple that with a windy day, squirming children and you’ve got outfits that are able to spontaneously destruct. Thank goodness none of us had boobies then, and that that number saw the great crepe paper ban.  I honestly think that whenever there was an opportunity to dress us up oddly, the teachers would jump to it, be it at concerts, school sports or at the min debs ball. Okay, that last one was totally on my mother, apparently she thought it was in fashion to dress your kid like the bride of Frankenstein.

Dead bodies in swimming pools, stolen potato sandwiches and clothing malfunctions aside, Lotus Park is also a place that reminds me of my late uncle, Juggie. It’s where he lived the last few years of his short life and when I think that I am older now than he ever was, it’s hard not to get emotional. Both Juggie and Lotus Park were a huge part of my childhood and sometimes when I think of my uncle, I’d like to think he would have grown old in that house in Lotus Park. That house where we would run around the living room singing “Beans kota sapa dingo”, where I learnt the reason why “stinkbombs” where named as such, and where I have the dent in my right shin from. My uncle wasn’t the youngest of his siblings but his crazy personality, his enthusiasm for life and that he could always get others (read his nieces and nephews) to do his chores for him, made me feel like he was. Maybe a part of my uncle will always be in Lotus Park, maybe it’s with that small part of me that was a child there.

This is ‘Spingo, Marms

I can’t quite recall what I was saying but the person I was talking to said, “That’s because you’re a ‘Spingo stekkie,” and strangely enough, instead of me thinking he had had a stroke, hearing him say those words cemented our friendship. There’s something to be said about shared meaning, about the ease of which that is known to both parties that makes for easy dialogue and communication but, of course, I can’t start a blog about ’Spingo and ramble on to deeper things and musings about how shared meaning comes about. No, no, I must, as with all stories, start at the beginning.

That the Durban International Airport was housed in Isipingo sort of made me feel like all roads lead to Isipingo

First some clarification for the uneducated reader. ‘Spingo is actually a town called Isipingo found in Kwa-Zulu Natal, but the only time you’d refer to it as such is if you were taking to a white person, or if you grew up somewhere fancier and were trying to act like a white person (and no, growing up in Umhlatuzana does not make you fancy). I’m pretty sure I’m making it too fancy by my reckless apostrophe before the “s” and that I’m going to lose street cred by constantly referring to it as Isipingo, but you’ll forgive me.  Right, where was I? Yes, the great town of Isipingo.  That the Durban International Airport was housed in Isipingo sort of made me feel like all roads lead to Isipingo, you could always find a road sign pointing you home. Man, were we proud of our proximity to the airport. Not only could anyone coming to Isipingo easily find us (all roads lead to ‘spingo remember?), but we also had a restaurant in the airport. Yes, one entire restaurant. Hey, don’t judge, we only went to that airport restaurant for the non-important occasions, for birthdays and dates we’d usually brave the drive to Toti to marvel at the white people. It was only testament to our wiliness and ingenuity that we used the airport not only as a means of travel, but also as a way to give direction, provide entertainment and sustenance.

According to me, there were three parts to Isipingo- they were easy to identify because they started with the word “Isipingo”- Isipingo Beach, Isipingo Rail and Isipingo Hills.  Isipingo Rail was named as such because to live there meant you “lived on the wrong side of the tracks”, trust me I spent a good few years learning how to make mud cakes and ride my pink BMX there, it was rough, proper ghetto. Not only was “The Rails” a buzzing commercial hub that warranted a KFC and later a Chicken Licken, it was also home to The Isipingo Temple. I’ve seen many temples around the world, and I can say with all honesty, that none compare to the Isipingo Temple. Every year, around Easter, Hindus from all parts of Durban would make a pilgrimage to the temple. I was always a bit of strange child with an overactive imagination, and my relationship with organised religion, is and always has been, complicated. Despite that, I enjoyed my first experience at this temple. Well at least I did, at first. It was an unusual treat to walk beside my grandfather; the ground was warm beneath my bare feet and I had the special honour of carrying the camphor, which we would pause to throw into the flames as we circled the temple. The smell of camphor in my hands and the pleasure of having my grandfather all to myself seemed too good to be true. And it was, because as we completed the last circle around the temple it would seem as though we descended into the last circle of hell. I want to say that I saw a chicken flying over the temple roof in a graceful arc, but there was nothing graceful about the mad squawking and the hysteria that ensued and that’s saying nothing about how the chicken reacted. I also want to say that I was upset because this constituted violence towards animals, but in truth, I was more savage then, and I was more concerned about a wasted opportunity to eat that chicken.  I became convinced that the “Chicken Temple” was a satanic temple and that one day I too would be captured for Voodoo magic rituals (do Satanists do Voodoo rituals?). To make it worse, everyone from all over Durban came to this temple and this is how they saw the ‘Spingo members, no wonder everyone thought we were shambies.

Isipingo Beach was a place where you could lose your life, quite literally. Being an “Indian area” during the time of The Group Areas Act, the government decided that if the brown people wanted to get in the water, then we could also brave the sharks (do sharks like spicy food?). And, if the sharks didn’t get you, there was always the notorious “Beach Boys” to deal with. To be clear, I have no idea what it meant to be a “Beach Boy”, who these boys were or how the title was even bestowed upon a worthy subject, but I was told that they were fierce and fearsome. These guys were sort of like the Loch Ness of ‘Spingo for me, there would always be claims of sightings, some people would even have grainy photographic evidence, but they would always remain elusive, creatures never to be caught in broad daylight.  Isipingo Beach was also home to “Daddy’s” Supermarket and the most epic bakery next door, many a birthday would be graced by a cake from there. It was Isipingo Beach where I first ventured into the water, where I caught my first fish (a stick floating in a polystyrene cup) and where as children, the only thing wilder than our imaginations were ourselves.

Man, did I think I was fancy living in Isipingo Hills. I grew up watching Beverly Hills 90210, and even though I didn’t understand any of it- it was screened in Afrikaans and we could get the English version if we switched on the radio while turning down the volume of our TV- I knew that those rich people lived the life. I believe it was the apartheid government’s way of making us believe Afrikaans was cool, so advanced were their methods of brainwashing that I was actually surprised and somewhat disappointed to find out Kelly, Brandon and the gang were actually Americans who spoke English. I was convinced that Isipingo Hills would be similar to Beverly Hills 90210 and the fact that our telephone numbers all started with the numbers “902” added to my confidence. When we moved to “The Hills”, I imagined that our lives would be drastically different and even though high school was sort of like a soap opera, Isipingo Hills was more Little House on the Prairie than Beverly Hills 90210. Seriously, you’d easily find a herd of cattle crossing the road or a random goat meandering around. The Hills would be the place that shaped my high school years, from walking down the street to house parties, to swimming at the public pool all year long (and trying to avoid the lifeguard’s office adorned with nudie pics), to being entertained after school at Jeena’s. Jeena’s, if it still exists, should be a historical landmark. That so many high school students met there while waiting to be fetched by their parents meant that on any given day something would happen worth talking about the next day. The remark “meet you after school at Jeena’s” could be taken in one of two ways depending on the tone. If said in anger, it’s a challenge to a fight, and probably not one you can easily escape or win. Once these words are said, in that particular way, it is usually a witness or two who will turn to their friends and say in a non-threating manner, “meet you after school at Jeena’s” as an invitation to get a ringside view of the flight. I know it sounds simple enough, but I once confused the two versions and found myself slap bang in the middle of a fight, luckily, I escaped with neither a slap nor a bang, but it was a close call.

I can hardly believe that all I’ve done is scratch the surface here. Maybe there’s a great book to be written about ‘Spingo and the members, the marms, ‘Spingo Dingos but for now, this will have to do. ‘Spingo Dingo out

Sutherland: Searching For The Stars

Nostalgia clouds and softens a memory of the first time I heard of Sutherland, a sleepy town too tiny to be called small. Of course, the man doing the telling was in himself an enigma, a learned man who had spent decades of his life looking towards the heavens. He worked in relative isolation and seemed to speak a language only he understood, but when he spoke of Sutherland I listened, marvelling at the unbridled enthusiasm in his voice. When he spoke of The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), two things became abundantly clear to me, astronomers are literal people (how else would you name the largest telescope in the Southern hemisphere?) and that I had to see this telescope for myself. I cannot adequately explain the pull or how South Africa housing this telescope inspired me, I just knew that one day I would make the journey. Many years later, Sutherland, my first taste of the Northern Cape would charm me with it’s startlingly clear yet biting cold days and unpretentious solitude. When I stood before SALT, the sun benevolent in a cloudless sky, I had to stop for a moment. It felt like magic. It felt like possibility.

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The Northern Cape!

Now, I’m not overly fond of the cold, I love the romance of a fire and a glass of red as much as the next person but when the car you’re driving beeps in indignation and indicates that the outside temperature is 4 degrees Celsius at the warmest part of the day, I tend to question my life choices. Yes, I did once meet a Canadian who faced an Arctic Winter with nothing but a smile, a bathrobe and flipflops, but my constitution is one that developed over warm winters during which my hometown would host an international surfing competition, so I’m slightly less equipped. Make no mistake, Sutherland is cold, so cold that I’ve managed to manufacture a “fact” about it being the coldest place in our country.  I could feel the weight of that “truth” in my bones, so I have no desire to modify it with what could constitute a fact. If you have any ideas about correcting me, you best leave those intentions well enough alone, thank you. Misery and melodrama aside, there is something beautiful about the cold. There is a brutal honesty about it, one that brings with it a startling clarity, an exaggeration of the brilliance within the barren landscape that surrounds you. A tree that grows on the Martian like landscape is not just a tree, it is a brave and noble seed that sprung from hostile beginnings to flourish in world that did not want or appreciate it. You cannot help but be inspired by it’s presence and as it stands alone, you stop for a moment to give thanks to it’s tenacity. You must marvel at it’s grandeur, it is all the more impressive in it’s isolation. Bright, clear days give way to a darkness that is absolute but not heavy, and night skies so adept at capturing an imagination that they seemed to be created for that sole purpose. Sutherland invites exploration, you look up towards the heavens, feel the crispness of a winter night and are driven to see more. You tug at your jacket to keep warm, but the night sky ignites something in you. All at once you are completely insignificant yet an incredible part of something much larger. And there is nothing you can do apart from grabbing hold of someone’s hand and marvel, revel in fact, at your insignificance.

 

I didn’t really expect much in terms of tourism at Sutherland (and even what little I did expect I was wrong about in any case). Besides, I had already convinced myself that I was taking the three and a half hour drive just to see the telescope. What I didn’t count on was having to fight off Swine Flu while visiting Sutherland in the middle of their coldest month of the year. We arrived at the SALT visitors centre in time for both the first tour and for me to feel incredibly sorry for myself. Not even my teddy bear/mutant cat named Guinea Bissau could bring cheer to my feverish mind (more on Guinea in another blog, I’m convinced he wants to take over the world but isn’t smart enough to do so). There was a point at which I felt like the cold was a personal affront to me, it mocked the frivolity of my layers and I took it rather personally that the weather could be so inconsiderate towards my suffering. I lasted a good ten minutes inside SALT before trying to curl myself into a ball and praying for death. After my imploring looks at Husband had failed and once our tour guide told us that the temperature inside the telescope was set to mimic the night temperature, I almost ran towards the warmth of the four degrees outside. Okay, I’m being dishonest here, there was no “almost”, I ran out of the telescope, emerging like a drowning woman gasping for air while (rather counter-intuitively) trying to wrap my hat around my face in the process (I know Swine Flu is incredibly glamourous, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise).

The tour cut short, we headed off to our bed and breakfast where I would find the bed, crawl into it with my boots still on and emerge a good six hours later. Strange is definitely a word I would use to describe this bed and breakfast, not just strange because there was a small dining table in the bathroom (where else would you put a dinning table?) but strange because it could have easily been the setting for a low budget horror movie and the darkness abound did nothing to quell my fears of vampires waiting to capitalise on this little (dark) town in the middle of nowhere. I guess this is the thing about Sutherland though, it is a small town and it can’t be bothered to convince you otherwise. You can find everything you need (as long as you don’t need a pharmacy or the trappings of a modern life) on one road quite simply because there is only one road in Sutherland. I love that the “Mall” consists of one shop and that the most popular restaurant is actually in a house that was converted to a B&B. Even better, said B&B is run by a woman who greets you as though you’ve just interrupted the most important thing she’s ever had to do AND you’ve tracked mud all over her favorite rug. The place is called The Blue Moon and I’m convinced the name reflects the frequency of the owner’s smiles or ability to be pleasant. We spent the better part of an hour there, I’m convinced that most of our time was spent standing in the hallway in that awkward moment between us greeting The Lady of Perpetual Sorrow and her showing us to our seats. Maybe it was because we had left The Blue Moon without a meal that we were able to hold out for the two and half hour wait at the next restaurant we went to. Just to be clear, it was a two and half hour wait from order to meal and by the time our meals are served, the owner looked exhausted and we felt like inconsiderate fools for still being there.

Small town, strange accommodation and shocking service aside, Sutherland has some sort of magic to it. I felt something akin to regret driving out of town. I wanted to stay longer. I wanted to spend a night under the stars. I wanted to brace myself against a Northern Cape winter and look up to the heavens in awe. And that feeling makes me believe that I’m not quite done with Sutherland yet, it makes me trust in another road trip towards the solace, the stars and the strangeness of Sutherland.

Green mangoes for the soul

Green mangoes. I almost want to capitalise the words. GREEN MANGOES. There, that feels more indicative of my feelings. There are very few other things that are so strongly evocative of my childhood (of course there is MacGyver but I’m still smarting from my unrequited love so we’ll exclude him for the moment). Green mangoes are an assault on my senses. The sight, a happy, glistening, gleaming green, is a symbol of promise and excitement. It is a signal to the warmer weather approaching. The smell is fresh and young and to touch the sometimes sticky, unwashed skin takes me right back to climbing a tree in search of the illicit bounty. The crunchy sourness of the young, firm flesh moistens my mouth and lifts my spirits. I have a relationship I cannot explain with unripe mangoes.

Nothing more promising that a bowl of green mangoes

Of course, had you grown up in the hot, sticky east coast of our country and had your family been of Indian descent, you would probably recognise my brand of madness as your own. People who look and sound like me and who were born and bred in the same area as I was, have a propensity to pickle and curry things that many other people may find odd. Green mangoes are no exception for pickling and ripe mangoes are no exception for curry making. Mango pickle, homemade mango pickle with just the right amount of crunch and heat is undoubtedly the unsung hero of my childhood. It seems to me that the grandparents of my generation had many a pickling secret and I am fearful that we may have lost something through the progression of time. My paternal grandfather had a special talent for preserving the green beauties so as to retain their youthful crunch (who likes a soggy mango in their pickle?) and he would often sneak me pieces of the pickled treasure when my mother was not watching. On my maternal side, I would find all sorts of other treasures, like the grated mango, green chilli and salt concoction (we call it Kutchla, although no one outside my family is aware of the strange sounding word). When the grandchild count was an unfulfilled four, my cousins and I would spend the majority of our summer holidays trying to outwit my grandmother to enable the unfolding of ill formed plans of mango theft. Upon sending the older of the grandchildren up into the biggest tree in the yard (it was at that stage, an unparalleled honour to be asked by a grown up to climb a tree), my grandmother would wash and cut the young mangoes before salting them. So, and the process of pickling and grandmother deception were set in motion. Once salted, the mangoes would be arranged neatly in rows on newspaper on the veranda, like polite uniformed students waiting to be addressed at assembly. The heady vision of these polite mangoes would prove an enticement too great for us and the oldest of the grandchildren, as if age bestowed him some superiority, would sketch out our action plan using a thin stick in the sand under the shade of the generous mango tree. Part of his cunning plan, which I only realised later in life, was to use me as a distraction so that the three older children could steal the mangoes, mix up some chilli powder and salt and enjoy their spoils behind the large sofa in the lounge.

When we were children, it was a simpler time, it was a time when children spent their school holidays climbing trees, making swings and stealing mangoes with their cousins. There were no cell phones and TV was limited to a certain part of the day. Times have changed, sometimes unbelievably so, but one thing that has not is the treasure that is green mangoes, chilli powder and salt. We may be adults, too big to fit behind the lounge sofa but we’ll always be children trying to find our way to a treasure we cannot not forget.

There’s a Korean in my backyard

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My, what big teeth you have…

I have a hair trigger reflex when it comes to adding new destinations to my travel bucket list. It’s as if the travel monster necessitates regular feeding although it’s hunger will never be satiated and of course, in a desire to please, I myself am all too eager to feed it. This past weekend, after spending the day at the Korean Food and Film Festival, it seemed close to madness that we had not previously considered a trip to Korea. Two big things influenced my view; the food and the people. I would not call my hunger insatiable, but very much like the travel monster, I too require regular feeding.

Nothing about the day actually started out promising. Dark, foreboding clouds loomed up above, discouraging the passage of light into our kitchen as my bare feet touched the cool tiled surface of our floors. I stood in the kitchen, a grapefruit clutched in one hand, trying to persuade myself to have a healthy breakfast. My mood matched the clouds outside at the thought of such foolishness. By the time I had showered and changed however, the sun had made a magnificent come back and the day seemed filled with possibility (also I had abandoned the grapefruit in lieu of last night’s pizza so I was in a remarkably better mood). Getting to the festival, I found myself alone as Husband went off to run some errands and the friend I was meeting had not yet arrived. I was none too phased, there was much to see and experience so I was happy to wander aimlessly (or rather to follow the smell of delicious food) around. I am distracted by a tantalising sign that reads Chicken and Beer as a young, fresh faced Korean woman, asks me “Do you drink? Would you like to taste some Korean alcohol for free?” Now, it was barely after 11:30am but the lady seemed so friendly (and she did say free) that I found myself unable to say no. I tasted a deliciously refreshing hibiscus cocktail and was given a brief explanation of the main ingredient, Soju, a firm Korean favourite made from rice wine. Already, I was sold on Korea, not only did her people seem to know me (offering me free booze) but the warmth of the reception and the eagerness to share their culture with me really warmed the cockles of my heart. Later when I took Husband around to sample some of the typical Korean drinks, a man who looked more like a teenage boy, enthusiastically thrust a small glass of Bekseju into my hand. Holding a similar sized glass filled with the cold amber fluid in his hand he proclaimed “Geonbae! We believe that if you drink this you will live to be a 100 years old!” After we had sampled the ginseng infused drink and he saw looks of appreciation, he happily proclaimed us Korean before proceeding to encourage us to try everything else he had to offer.

When my friend arrives, things get even better, she had lived in Korea for a few years and her enthusiasm about all things Korean (more especially the food) was contagious. Soon, I was stuffing my face with everything I saw, from Jeon (tasty pancakes with delicious fillings including Kimchi) to Mandu (fried dumplings) to traditional Korean barbeque and many other things I can’t re-name now. What really interested me (and my taste buds) was the use of spice and heat in many of the dishes I tried. A Korean lady laughed as she asked me in broken English to try a small finger shaped rice cake coated in a thick spicy broth. The rice cake was soft and gummy almost and the fragrant broth that it found itself in generated a respectful amount of heat without being overpowering. I sipped Bekseju from a heavy, tiny glass and found that it perfectly complemented the heat of the dish. I loved being able to experience this almost literally in my backyard. I also loved the fact that this small taste (not in the literal sense- small is a bit of a fallacy in terms of how much I tasted) had brought me closer to a country I knew very little about. Closer, but not close enough the travel monster reminds me.

“The food’s not bad for a furniture shop”

I love going back to the city I was born in, every time I am “home” there is something new to learn, something new to experience, even though this is the city that shaped my life. This last trip was no exception. Like most South African’s I associate my home town with the infamous and weirdly named “bunny chow” and aromatic, flavourful Durban curry. For those who have never heard of a “bunny chow”, first let me assure you of the fact that no rabbits are harmed during the production of a “bunny chow”. Secondly, eating a “bunny” (chow) is kind of like one of the great wonders of the world, if it does not feature on your bucket list, please rectify that oversight immediately. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it. As many mere mortals, I have neither the skills or eloquence to adequately capture the glorious sensation of eating a “bunny”, it is quite simply something one must experience and I will not sully it with my ineffective words. For now, it shall suffice that you know that a “bunny” is created by hollowing out soft, fresh white unsliced bread and filling the space created with a curry of your choice. The soft plumes of white bread are placed on top of the curry and eating this dish with cutlery is almost sacrilegious.

It’s a given that when you visit Durban, you need to eat a “bunny” and for the most part I have broken this tradition. Before you gasp in horror and ask me what kind of a charou I am, allow me to placate you with the knowledge that I did eat a bunny during my last trip (look I even dropped the quotation marks around the word bunny so you would know I’m talking to you). And I must admit, I have had many bunnies in my time but none that I have bought from a furniture store. Yes, that is what I said, I bought food from a furniture store and even better, I ate food from a furniture store. Apparently back in Durban, these things are not uncommon, my surprise at going to a furniture store for lunch just served to cement my uncool status. I had to marvel at the ingenuity of the thing, a curry place in a furniture store. And if my surprise was not enough of an assault on my street cred, you bet I did not make things anything better when I walked into the store eyes wide and with my phone poised to take pictures. The lady behind the counter told me what the specials were twice and then started speaking much slower when my only response was a frown and mild panic. Luckily my work colleague saved me by placing his order, a quarter mutton bunny and I quickly said I would have the same. If I think about this really long and hard, I’m sure that I will discover that this was actually the first time in my life I had ever ordered a bunny (I am privileged enough to make these at home) so even if I was just jumping on the bandwagon it was an achievement! When our order is ready, I delicately carry my treasure back to the office and all feelings of embarrassment and lack of coordination are lost the moment I take a bite. Of course, it’s the not the first bite that’s a problem, it’s all the bites thereafter and I am a lazy, unproductive employee post bunny, drunk on curry and a quarter loaf of white bread. I spend the rest of the day content and grateful for the stretchiness of my dress and to the furniture store that sells bunnies.

Barefoot beers and a bromance

Our waitress walks towards us carrying a shoe. Well she’s actually holding the laces of a shoe and trying unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh. She stops at our table and says “If you drink this beer you will have to give me your shoe”. I glance at my semi consumed beer in it’s golden glory and wonder whether I’ve heard her correctly. As it turns out there is a beer on the menu that when ordered necessitates the “lending” of one of your shoes to the bar staff. Our waitress runs off to show me which beer this in on the menu and when she returns, the shoe she had been holding has been returned to its rightful owner. She looks sad without the shoe but there is hope in her eyes that perhaps I am willing to volunteer one of my shoes to fill the void. I look around, it’s a wonderful afternoon, the sun catches the sweat beading on glasses filled with liquid amber and happy people laugh around me. I think about how much I love a place that encourages being barefoot, imagine if as young girls we are sold the story about how all women should be barefoot, with a beer in hand at a bar instead of the boring old barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen? I ask the waitress is I can skip the beer but still take my shoes off and she doesn’t seem impressed. She clearly thinks I’ve misunderstood the concept or lost the plot and she rushes off in the pretence of assisting another customer as I sip my beer with my both my feet shod.

 

Apart from getting to take off your shoes, lots of good things come from drinking beer. You’re all of a sudden funnier, sexier and more courageous. You’re a better dancer, you tend to develop an artistic eye and takes many “abstract” pictures.

bty
I call this one “Flowers in the beer bottle”

Normal things tend to make you happier (I can’t believe our names start with same letter) or sadder (I can’t find my panama’s) than they should. All sorts of people turn in your BEST FRIEND, an old friend, a new friend, a stranger with long hair, a stranger with a beard, the person who drinks the same beer as you, the options are endless. I love the usually stoic types that turn into hugging, loving hippies who go around listing people’s best characteristics and punctuating sentences with “I love you man”. Many a bromance has been catalysed by beer and seeing grown men confess their feelings to each other with reckless abandon is a beautiful thing to behold! Better yet is the hugging and loud kisses if you get to witness those.

But lots of stupid things also come from drinking beer – I’m not about to judge, I’ve been plenty stupid in my time. South Africa is a beer drinking nation and I’m not one to abdicate responsibility, but I think Mother Nature needs to take some of the blame for this. We do have the perfect beer drinking weather and we do tend to over-indulge as some sort of tribute to the weather gods. So, I will leave you with this rather ineffectual last message, if you are to drink (barefoot or not) and even if that drinking allows a bromance to blossom, please do not drink and drive. That’s not stupid, that’s unforgivable.

All things wild and wonderful in the Waterberg Mountains

A walk on the Wildside!

Upon arriving at the Hanglip Mountain Lodge I am greeted by a giraffe, well actually the bum of a giraffe who is sipping from a small pond, it’s long legs splayed awkwardly, neck craned at an impossible angle. Immediately, I decide that the giraffe will be my friend, scratch that, best friend. I unimaginatively name said giraffe Giraffo. Giraffo does not take kindly to our intrusion to his pond drinking enjoyment and straightens his lean legs trotting off into the sunset leaving me heartbroken and eating his dust (literally). Never mind him, he’ll warm up to me. Giraffo should have given me an indication that this was going to be a weekend quite literally in the wild.

A giraffe near the swimming pool

Giraffo returned later that afternoon to munch on some of the higher branches of the trees shading the pool and upon seeing him I had the most inexplicable urge to hug him. He of course, still playing hard to get, fixed me with a stare that turned my legs wooden and reminded me that he was a wild animal and not an unusually large stuffed toy. We would spend the rest of the afternoon sipping wine on our balcony, watching the mountains steal the last light of the day. Nearby, wildebeest lazed about and upon the sunset, they rose in unison, barely thinking to dust themselves of the sand they had laid in and began to walk off to an unknown destination. The positioning of the lodge could not have been better thought through. Double doors to our thatched room opened to an impressive yet almost petite mountain range, preceded by two dams that served as watering holes, drawing in animals throughout the day. At breakfast, we would find hippos and warthogs and at lunch the elephants would come to visit. Before I went to bed that first night I left out some chips for Giraffo as a peace offering and a blatant attempt at bribery. The next morning, I found my chips gone and in its place settled the renewed hope for a giraffe-human friendship.

One of the great things about this bush weekend getaway is the solitude. Husband is emboldened by the wine and decides that he shall make friends with the couple we met upon arrival. He is convinced they are Portuguese and this seems to bring further proof that a friendship has been written in the stars. We are a giggly twosome, arms linked around one another when we arrive at dinner and before we sit down the waitress reminds us that we shall need an escort walking back to our room in the dark. That’s a bit dramatic, I hiccup to myself, I haven’t had that much wine. But it is not the wine they seek to protect us from, it is the predators lurking around looking for a juicy, fattened city person to sink their teeth into. “There are no fences here at Hanglip” the waitress reminds me, cutting short the stupid remark I was about to make about lions needing to eat dinner too. I nod gravely showing her that I get the point before the German Doctor man at the table next to us starts up a conversation. German Doctor man, as you may have guessed, is a doctor and he hails from Germany. He is one part of the family of four that are the only guests apart from us at the lodge. And just like that, Husband’s dream of making a Portuguese friend is dashed and to make matters worse, German Doctor man is infinitely boring, talking at length about his son’s school and later when he knows us better, his fluffy white dog. His wife does little apart from glare at him from time to time, her disdain palpable and his children are zombie like with their phones so close to their faces they seem to be inhaling them. Poor German Doctor man looks as though he needs a friend but Husband is far too self-absorbed to notice so he cuts him off and proclaims that we are off to bed.

A Cheetah mum and three cubs trailing behind
A Cheetah mum and three cubs trailing behind

The next day tough choices are to be made; stay in and be lazy or go for a game drive. No one said life was going to be easy. We are wooed by the game ranger over lunch and when he asks if he should pack us a bottle of wine to have at sunset I am sold (and I can’t help but wonder if I drink too much wine). I’ve never really liked game drives, a dislike born on the night we spent four long, uncomfortable hours at the Kruger National Park only to see a hyena that accidentally stumbled upon our path and a few bunnies. But, I was willing to give this one a go (bottle of wine notwithstanding). The name of our ranger escapes me but I wish I could recall it, because he deserves more than an honourable mention. He had such a passion and desire to show us all the animals he could, he tracked the lions all through the game reserve, managing to find them even when we had given up and all in all made that one of the best game drives I’ve ever experienced. I guess spotting both cheetah and lion cubs, a rhino with a calf, a herd of elephants and various buck as well zebra will do that to a person.

A rhino crossing the path
A rhino crossing the path

The more I learn the less I know: A visit to Soweto

To think that in my 31 odd years of being South African and living in this beautiful country I have learnt so little about our complex history is not only upsetting but deeply embarrassing. Sure I could blame it on the school system; unfortunately myself and most of my peers were not taught “black history” so to speak in schools, our view of South African history was heavily biased and not at all a true reflection of the struggles that existed and those who lived and died fighting them. But it seems like a feeble excuse that crumbles the moment I try to take hold of it. The truth is that I have not made a big enough effort to know, to really understand our history and visiting the Hector Pieterson Museum a few days ago was a reminder of how little I knew.

After close to six years in Johannesburg, I took my first trip to Soweto and I was pleasantly surprised of how at home I felt. Visiting the Hector Pieterson Museum was emotionally difficult; to read the accounts of students and parents reliving the horror of the day and the days that followed and then to see the names of slain children inscribed on the bricks that lay on the ground outside moved me in a way defies description. I look at the group I arrived with, diverse and beautiful and I wonder how the ugliness I see in this museum me was ever part of the country that I love, the country that is my home. I do not know much, but I know that even though years have passed and times have changed, many of us still harbor hate in our hearts and it is a hate that comes to life in our actions and words. Standing in the museum that day it made sense to me that if I was ever to know my country I should first seek to understand it’s history.

I must also admit that I needed the change in mood that a visit to the Orlando Towers brought! From the deep sense of oppression and the emotions that the Hector Pieterson Museum brought, I was glad for the light, carefree vibe at Chaf Pozi at the Towers. My change in mood also a stark reminder to the contradictions that are part of South Africa but more so a reminder that South African’s, despite everything, still know how to have a good time! A few Zamalek’s later, with generous, delicious food in front of me and a view of the colourful towers, I wondered how it had taken me so long to get here.

I love my city!

“I had a great weekend!” I proclaimed rather exuberantly to anyone that offered up the perfunctory “How was your weekend?” Monday coffee time banalities. Well, to be honest, the lady washing up the tea cups in the communal kitchen didn’t ask, but I thought she should know in any case. So, where to start? Perhaps at the beginning, but who likes convention, perhaps not even convention itself (I imagine it sitting in a dark corner listening to REM, filled with self-loathing), but I digress. Yes, back to my wonderful weekend. Perhaps I was still high on the vibe from the Rise and Shine festival held at Sandton Central Park this past Saturday; local music showcasing phenomenal talent, beautiful weather and friendly hippies strolling around barefoot, yeah, that was a great afternoon. Unfortunately, I only caught the last few hours of the festival, getting there just in time to catch Tailor and her amazing set (not hard to see what that SAMA nomination was all about!). I did have to walk passed a few slumbering festival goers, although the barrage of bright yellow plastic Obikwa bottles seemed to form a protective shield against stray feet and unwanted toes, so they nestled peacefully until Desmond and the Tutu’s came on stage. Before I get to “Desmond and the mother flippin Tutu’s” I have to give Naming James an honourable mention, although they deserve so much more! Talk about stage presence, these guys absolutely killed it at the festival and I for one, cannot wait to catch them in action again.  Naming James totally set the scene for the last act of the day, ending their set by sharing the stage and a massive crowd sing along (laa laa laa, la, la, la or some version of that…). The Desmond and the Tutus set revealed my innermost groupie self and I crazily ran backstage to meet the band of boys who have better hair than I do. Perhaps what was even better than the set they played was how humble and down to earth they were, posing for pictures and chatting to the somewhat inebriated hippies. I felt a sense of accomplishment leaving the festival with both my shoes on (a few hapless souls stumbled out unshod) and as I clutched my new Desmond and the Tutus T-shirt and my blindingly yellow Obiwa squeezy bottle, I turned to catch the most beautiful Sandton sunset. The philosophical me would have stopped to say that the colours were painted in the sky to remind us of the beauty in diversity, a true representation of the festival goers but luckily the buzzing of a WhatsApp message stopped my musings short and I took a picture of the prettiness instead…

I must admit that I did feel lucky to have caught not only a beautiful sunset but also to have seen the sun stretch it’s arms out wide, yawn and then bit by bit show itself to the world that very same morning, but more on that in another post. For now I want to talk about the Sheds@Fox, if you’re reading this and have never heard of it, or have heard of it but never been(tsk tsk), then do yourself a favour, GO! Now, this is inner city Joburg and if you think that’s brave for a Durban born girl like me, you’d probably be right and wrong. Okay, I did discretely tuck my phone under my leg when we stopped at the street lights on route and I did wonder if I had made the right decision to spend a Friday night driving around the city but when our final destination was in sight, I knew that I would love it. Perhaps what I love the most about the Sheds, apart from the food (it’s “Oh my goodness” delicious) or the chilled vibe, is the fact that a place like the Sheds reminds us of how much our city has to offer. In any case, the Sheds have a much better description of their offerings than I do (http://www.1fox.co.za), so go check it out, you won’t be disappointed.